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Remembering Leonard Nimoy, And The Difference He Made

'It's amazing how someone who plays someone so unemotional, stirs the deepest emotions in all of us'

I was so frustrated this morning, digging through a box of mementos that I keep in a corner of my closet.

I found copies of newspapers from around Sept. 11, 2001, stacked with local newspaper coverage of my sale of the SyFy brand to NBC Universal, a copy of the script of the Star Trek movie that never was, to even the one time in my life I was quoted in the Washington Post about a decade ago. But I couldn't find what I was really looking for — a student newspaper, from the University of South Florida here in Tampa where I live, from 1996. I am not even mentioned in the story, or anywhere in the paper. But Leonard Nimoy is on the cover, giving a Vulcan salute, and marked the first time I got to see the actor in person.

I wanted to start this whole column out by sharing with you me going through that box, and coming across this treasure, and why it has meant so much for me to keep it. But somehow it got moved somewhere else (or I fear even more, it's been lost). How could it be so treasured, if I don't even know where it is?

But then I checked Twitter, something I don't do nearly as often as I used to, and William Shatner was tweeting for the first time. And I realized, I'm being illogical. I really am. I'm fretting over a 20-year-old newspaper when Mr. Shatner is grieving the loss of a dear friend who has been a part of his life for more than 50 years. He is here in Florida, fulfilling his commitment to attend a charity event, and won't make it back in time for Mr. Nimoy's funeral.

I couldn't even imagine what he is going through right now. I can't even imagine what Mr. Nimoy's family is going through right now. His condition was one that we knew he had far fewer days ahead than behind, but that can never soften the blow of someone we love.

We may not have been a part of his immediate family, or even part of his Trek family. But we are all part of the human family, and Leonard Nimoy played a significant part in trying to make that better. Mr. Shatner might be upset because he's doing a charity event instead of mourning for his friend, but something inside me says that Leonard Nimoy would've preferred his good friend would be doing just that.

And it takes me to a story I have told many times. I don't know why I tell it so much, it's not like I've never had encounters with a celebrity before, or even met someone who I idolized in some way when I was younger. But there is something about this story that really stands out, and has not just today, but in the years since it happened.

If you've heard it before, I'm sorry. But for those who haven't (or who like hearing it again), I was having lunch in a Subway not far from downtown Tampa. My day job is as a business journalist, and it keeps me busy, so having a few minutes to sit down once in a while and just have a moment to myself while I eat is a luxury.

While I was biting into my ham sub (yes, unlike Mr. Nimoy, I'm a terrible Jew), my phone lights up. It's some number, which I gathered was from California based on the area code. I didn't know who it was, and I was in the middle of eating, so I just sent it to voice mail, and went back to my sub. Once I was done, I thought I better check the message, just in case it's something I need to deal with before I head back to the office, so I go to my voicemail menu, and play the message.

"Um, hello, Michael Hinman please. This is Leonard Nimoy calling." I nearly dropped my phone, and I don't even remember hearing the rest of the message. So I had to go play it back, but my mind was racing: "Why would Leonard Nimoy call me? Shouldn't I be calling him? And how the hell did he get my phone number?"

It ended up that Mr. Nimoy was a reader of our main science-fiction site, which back then had just recently changed its name from SyFy Portal to Airlock Alpha. We had published a story about the people in Vulcan, Alberta — who had transformed their entire town into a Star Trek haven to attract tourists — and were willing to spend their hard-earned money to convert a gymnasium in their small town to a theater so they could screen the new J.J. Abrams "Star Trek" movie when it came out. The problem wasn't that Paramount didn't want to give them the film, it was that it would take weeks to retrofit the gym, so before spending the money they needed a commitment from Paramount right away on whether they would send a print, and Paramount just didn't plan those things that far out.

Mr. Nimoy read about that plight, and wanted to reach out to me. Now, he could've had an assistant or someone else send me an email. But that's not Leonard Nimoy. He wanted to reach out to me directly. So, from how it was told to me later by others in the know, he reached out to someone he felt would know: his co-star, George Takei. Not that my cellphone number is a big secret (even today, anyone can probably Google it and find it), but he didn't know that, and knew George would. So he got my cell, and he placed the call.

So, of course, I called him back immediately, feverishly hand-writing notes on a Subway napkin, talking about what Mr. Nimoy wanted to do to help the people of Vulcan see the movie. I threw in a few questions about the film, which he happily answered. And then, not to overstay my welcome, I thanked him, exchanged some pleasantries, and then my head exploded.

I posted my story on March 19, 2009, which you can find here. Don't mind the lack of photo and stuff, that was at least two database changes ago. But I remember following up that call with Dayna Dickens, who at the time was part of the Vulcan Tourism and Trek Centre. Dayna said that office received a call from Mr. Nimoy as well, but they thought they were being pranked, so they didn't take it seriously.

In the end, Mr. Nimoy was not able to get Paramount to commit to having the film in Vulcan. But he did help arrange for people of the town to get bused to Calgary about 90 minutes away and ensure they had seats for the film when it opened that May.

The town of Vulcan might have been able to do that on their own. They might have just given up and waited to see it on their own. Leonard Nimoy didn't have to do anything — I mean, they are a small town, and whether that small group of people saw the film or not, who cares when it's all said and done?

Leonard Nimoy cared. He saw fans who were excited about seeing Star Trek, and he wanted to make sure those fans had every opportunity available to them to see Star Trek. It didn't hurt that the town was named after his character's famous planet, but I bet if he saw that story from some town no one ever heard of, he would've reached out and done the same.

Mr. Nimoy may not always have agreed with things, and could definitely get upset about other things. But one thing I can say is that I don't know anyone, even before Friday, who had anything terrible to say about him. And I saw that on Twitter, and on Facebook, and in many other areas over the last 24 hours, where they have even better stories about encounters with Mr. Nimoy than mine.

There was one that stood out. One person shared a story of how she saw Mr. Nimoy in a Florida theme park, just sitting on a bench. She got the courage to go up and sit next to him, and engage him in the conversation. Here was a celebrity — an icon, actually — who probably wanted some time to himself, away from fans and such, and now here was a fan talking about Star Trek. He didn't wave her off, or check his watch. He sat there for 30 minutes, and talked Trek, life, whatever came up.

It's not just the character Leonard Nimoy played that is so loved. It's Leonard Nimoy himself who is loved. And it's why we are not only mourning the loss of a friend — of a family member — but we are celebrating how much more wonderful our lives were that Leonard Nimoy was in it.

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